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Smith Expresses No Regrets Regarding a Brief Career in Pro Football
Written by Bradley Schlegel, Staff Writer
2020-12-28

            Less than a week into his NFL tryout, Clark Smith threw himself into a tackling drill. As an undrafted invitee, he felt the need to make an impact.

Clark Smith at Montana State College

            "It was a way to show that I had intestinal fortitude," Smith said.

            Following a vicious collision, which dented the ball carrier's helmet, Smith felt a pain in his neck, which ran down his arms and dissipated after 30 seconds. A few days later, the Minnesota Vikings released the offensive lineman 10 days into summer camp. 

            "I thought I performed pretty well," Smith said. "I wasn't the first player to go."

            The following summer, the Perkiomenville native reported to practice with the Calgary Stampeders. However, the Canadian Football League team released him before the start of the regular season.

            Smith played one year of minor league football. In 1968, he earned $150 per game with the Seattle Rangers in the Continental Football League. Fifty-two years later, the 1963 graduate of Upper Perkiomen expressed no regrets regarding the outcome of his brief professional career.

            "I was a young guy who wanted to play football," said Smith, a father of four and grandfather of five who lives in Washington state.

            Smith initially made his mark on the football field in high school. His sophomore season with the Indians coincided with the debut of head coach Bill Keeny.

            Though the team didn't win a game in 1960, the Tribe made significant strides during the following two seasons. After going 4-4-2 in 1961, the team went 7-3 in 1962. Smith, a Perkiomenville native, helped it post its most successful record since 1953, when the team finished 8-0-1.

            The 6-foot-1 offensive tackle excelled individually, earning first team All Bux-Mont League honors. Smith credited Keeny and his coaching staff, which included Walt Schmidt, Mike Duka and Dick Werkheiser. He said they stressed the fundamentals and described the tackling during their practices as ferocious.

            "They were young guys," Smith said. "I learned a lot from them, including discipline. They encouraged me to go to college."

            Smith received offers to continue playing from a few teachers colleges in Pennsylvania and a school in Texas. Instead, Smith enrolled at Montana State College after meeting with a recruiting coach in Quakertown following the 1962 season. So, during the summer of 1963, he took a Greyhound bus to Bozeman, MT.

            "I loved the outdoors," said Smith, who initially hoped to play at Penn State.  He started three seasons for the Bobcats, helping them to a pair of winning seasons.

            In 2008 he was inducted into the school's athletic Hall of Fame as a member of the 1964 team, which became the only squad in Bobcat history to win an end-of-the-season bowl game by defeating Sacramento State 28-7 in the Camellia Bowl. 

            Smith earned first-team All-Big Sky Conference honors as a senior in 1966. That season, he blocked for sophomore quarterback Dennis Erickson. The signal caller went on to win two NCAA Division I national championships as a college coach. Erickson also coached two NFL teams (Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers) between 1995 and 2005.

            Though he went undrafted by the NFL and AFL, Smith did not go unnoticed by professional scouts, who were paying close attention to one teammate in particular, a Norwegian placekicker named Jan Stenerud. The lineman received tryout invitations from two AFL teams, the Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders, and Minnesota. Smith said he figured the Vikings offered him the best chance to succeed since they had just hired a new head coach, named Bud Grant, from the Canadian Football League.

            Early on during his time at the Vikings training camp in Mankato, Minnesota, a coach asked for three volunteers to participate in a drill Smith described as "Blood and Guts." In the drill, a running back attempted to get past three defenders positioned five yards apart. Smith jumped in right away.

            After the ball carrier juked the first defender, he stumbled along the sideline. Smith said he had the running back pinned near the sideline.

            "At that point I lowered my head and hit him with everything I had," Smith said.

            The collision, which caused a crater in the front of the running back's helmet, caused a stir in camp, according to Smith. He said newspaper reports noted the incident in their coverage of the team.  The ballcarrier – Earl Denny, who appeared in 27 games during 1967 and 1968 for the Vikings – was the team's third-round draft pick that year.

            The hit also earned Smith the neck injury known as a stinger, something he had experienced playing in college. However he didn't inform the team's training staff.

            "I stumbled through the next couple days of practices and got sent home," Smith said. "I should have gone to a trainer."

            A few days later, Smith was invited to play for the Spring-Ford Marauders, based in Royersford. He played four games, earning $25 a game.

            After returning to Montana State to serve as a graduate assistant and complete his degree, Smith signed with the Stampeders, of the Canadian Football League, for $10,500 in 1968. Two days before the start of the regular season, the team waived him. League rules allowed each club to carry only 14 Americans.

            "I got caught up in a numbers game," said Smith, who played during the preseason.

            He then received offers from two minor league teams in the Continental Football League. Smith could have signed with the Orlando Panthers, who competed in the Eastern Conference, or the Rangers, who were in the Pacific Division.

Smith, who earned $150 per game, reported to the Rangers a week before the season started. He played all 12 games for the team, which finished 7-5.

            In 1969, Smith planned on returning to the Rangers. However, he quit before the season after the first check he received from the team bounced.

            Smith and his family moved to Yakima, Washington, where they lived for several years. He worked in the Goodyear sales management program before opening up a tire service near Seattle. He and a partner expanded the business to 10 locations.

            "We did well," said Smith, who retired six or seven years ago and currently lives on Whidbey Island, a 20-minute ferry ride north of Seattle.

            "We worked hard. I learned the desire to win in sports and business."


 

 

 

 

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